Tuesday, November 21, 2017

[Product Review] Mineral Fusion


My Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Category: Makeup & Skin Care

Part 1: Product Description

Mineral Fusion Illuminating Mineral Beauty Balm

Instantly evens and perfects skin tone while minimizing pores and fine lines. 

Skin-soothing Aloe and nourishing botanicals moisturize skin for long-lasting hydration.

Our unique mineral-peptide blend and natural antioxidants promote cellular renewal for younger looking skin.

Mineral sun protection shields your face from the sun’s harmful rays while potent antioxidants ward off free radicals.

Formula Purity
Gluten Free :: 100% Vegan :: Cruelty Free :: Paraben Free :: Artificial Color Free :: Fragrance Free :: Talc Free ::  Hypo-allergenic :: Phthalate Free

Finish Description: ultra sheer with a satin finish

Drug Facts
Active Ingredient ..................... Purpose
Titanium Dioxide 7.4%...................... Sunscreen

Inactive Ingredients: Water (Aqua), Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Jojoba Esters, Mica, Vegetable Glycerin, Sorbitan Sesquioleate, Cetearyl Olivate, Sorbitan Olivate, Potassium Cetyl Phosphate, Dimethicone, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Citric Acid, Punica Granatum (Pomegranate) Extract, Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate (Vitamin C), Mineral-Peptide Blend (Magnesium Asparate, Zinc Gluconate, Copper Gluconate, and Palmitoyl Tripeptide-5), Camellia Sinensis (White Tea) Leaf Extract, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorice) Extract, Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Extract, Rosa Canina (Rose) Flower Extract, Olea Europaea (Olive) Leaf Extract, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Dehydroacetate, Sodium Benzoate, Iron Oxides. Other Information: protect this product from excessive heat and direct sun.

Mineral Fusion 3-in-1 Rosette Color Stick

Instant Color For Cheeks, Eyes & Lips
This versatile product is all you need to add color to cheeks, eyes, and lips. The lightweight formula will add a subtle shimmer and pretty glow to any complexion.

Perfect For On-The-Go Use
Brush-free application - apply and blend with fingertips. Easily fits in your bag for touch-ups throughout the day and night.

Multi-Tasking Makeup
All-in-one product speeds up your morning routine.

Formula Purity
Gluten Free :: Cruelty Free :: Paraben Free :: Artificial Color Free :: Fragrance Free :: Talc Free ::  Hypo-allergenic :: Phthalate Free

Color Description: pale pink with a hint of shimmer

Ingredients: Aqua (Water), Vegetable Glycerin, Glyceryl Behenate, Sodium Stearate, Xanthan Gum, Sodium PCA, Punica Granatum (Pomegranate) Extract, Camellia Sinensis (White Tea) Leaf Extract, Aloe Barbadensis (Aloe Vera) Leaf Juice, Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorice) Root Powder, Phenoxyethanol, Potassium Sorbate, Caprylyl Glycol. MAY CONTAIN (+/-): Black Iron Oxide, Red Iron Oxide, Yellow Iron Oxide, Carmine, Titanium Dioxide.

Mineral Fusion Intense Hydration Face Cream

Nutrient-replenishing Mineral Water, and ultra-nourishing Shea Butter, Rosehip Oil, and Hyaluronic Acid provide rich, luxurious hydration for noticeably softer skin.

Calming botanicals - Aloe, Lavender, and Cucumber - soothe and comfort skin for a healthy-looking glow.

Natural antioxidants, revitalizing Iron, and our elasticity-promoting, clinically tested, collagen-boosting peptide help firm and restore skin for a more youthful appearance.

Makeup Ready
Leaves skin perfectly prepped for makeup by creating a smooth, even texture.

Formula Purity
Gluten Free :: 100% Vegan :: Paraben Free :: Cruelty Free :: Artificial Color Free :: Hypo-allergenic

Ingredients: Mineral Water (Aqua), Vegetable Glycerin, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice*, Hyaluronic Acid, Cetearyl Alcohol, Ethylhexyl Palmitate, Glyceryl Stearate, Hematite (Iron) Extract, Palmitoyl Pentapeptide-3, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender)*, Panthenol (Vitamin B5), Linum Usitatissimum (Flax) Seed Oil, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter), Ginkgo Biloba Leaf Extract, Rosa Canina (Rosehip) Oil*, Olea Europaea (Olive) Leaf Extract*, Cucumis Sativus (Cucumber) Fruit Extract*, Borago Officinalis (Borage) Seed Oil, Allantoin, Calendula Officinalis Flower Extract*, Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract*, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria)*, Rosemary Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Oil, CedrusAtlantica (Cedarwood) Bark Oil, Pelargonium Graveolens (Geranium) Flower Oil, Phenoxyethanol, Echinacea Angustifolia Extract, Ethylhexylglycerin. * Certified Organic

Part 2: Recommendation

I saw this brand while browsing the Beauty & Skin Care section of Natural Grocers in S. Nevada, Colorado Springs, CO and it actually took maybe 3 weeks before I went ahead and got the above products. Winter is coming and I can feel my skin drying up faster than I could moisturize it. As for makeup, I seldom wear makeup because (1) I work from home now (2) I don't like the feel of all that makeup on my face (3) it's very time-consuming to put makeup on and (4) I don't like how it looks like I have makeup on. 

Yes, I've seen several YouTube video tutorials on the "No Makeup Look" and that is even more time consuming and the number of products involved is just ridiculous (for me, at least). For me, when I wear makeup, I want me to look like me and if I can limit the number of products used to less than 5, even better especially if you travel light like I do. So, I went to the Mineral Fusion website and read about the company and read all the reviews for the Illuminating BB Cream and Color Stick and loved what I read. So I tested the BB creams at the store and came home with the Illuminating BB Cream and the Rosette 3-in-1 Color Stick. 

I've been using both for 1 week now and I have to say that the Illuminating BB Cream blends well on the skin, very lightweight so it doesn't feel like I'm wearing makeup and the best part is, it looks so fresh, natural and glowing and it doesn't show the dry patches on my cheeks and forehead. It literally feels like putting on moisturizer. It is not super shiny or sheer at all. It has that all over nice glow and it helps keep my skin moisturized.

As for the Rosette 3-in-1 Color Stick, there are 3 other colors available but I picked the Rosette one since I'm more into the pale pink/glowing blush look and the product delivers. It doesn't show much but it gives your cheeks that radiant healthy glowing blush look, which suits me perfectly. And I have very fair, Asian complexion. I haven't used it as a lip color and most likely will never use it for that as I don't wear lipstick ever but I have used it on my lids as eyeshadow and it was easy to apply and it looks just as great. 

Now, for the Intense Hydration Face Cream, I have been using this product for 3 days now and I'm really loving it. It's not oily or sticky at all and I slather this on in the morning before I put on the Illuminating BB Cream and at night after I wipe off my makeup. Here in Colorado, especially during the colder months, you can never put enough moisturizer. I bought this product without reading any reviews online because I figured, if my skin is loving the Illuminating BB Cream, it will most likely love the Intense Hydration Face Cream as well and the fact that this cream also has lavender to combat breakouts and soothe skin irritations. 

This combination works really well for me and it shows on how much smoother and even my skin feels. I highly, highly recommend these products even to those who don't like using makeup at all or for those who love makeup but are looking for a product that uses natural ingredients or to those who want to simplify their makeup routine.

Aug. 14, 2019 Update: I've since added the Mineral Fusion Mineral SPF 40 Face Moisturizer to my collection since the summer began as the sun here in Colorado can get pretty intense and I'm loving it as well. I now use this in the morning and the Intense Hydration Moisturizer at night. It too has helped in keeping my skin clear.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

[Book Review] The Lyons Orphanage by Charlie King

The Lyons OrphanageThe Lyons Orphanage by Charlie King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: I received this galley from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Part 1: From The Book Cover

Sam Watkins, an orphaned young teenager, possesses the ability to read the minds of almost everyone he meets. Howard Lyons, the owner of the orphanage where Sam has lived since he was a baby, has been reluctant to let Sam leave the orphanage. Unable to read the mind of Mr. Lyons, he takes it upon himself to investigate the reasons behind the owner's decisions and learn more about the origin of his ability, his parents and the potential of his power. However, Sam's investigation and mind-reading abilities reveal a power struggle at the top of a faltering orphanage between Mr. Lyons and his assistant Natalie. Sam's involvement in this conflict leads him to look for ways to save the orphanage and uncover the true motivations of both the owner and his assistant while trying to learn about his past.

Part 2: Recommendation

Written in the first person point of view in Sam Watkin's perspective, a thirteen year old orphan, living at the Lyons Orphanage, who has the ability to read the minds of everyone he meets except Mr. Lyons' and Nurse Scarlett's minds.

This is the first book that I've been exposed to Charlie King's work and I have to say with all honesty that it was a good read with a surprising twist that was hinted at in the middle of the book and in the book description that intrigued me. The first half of the book describes the daily routine of the orphans at the orphanage and the pacing is on the slow side, which is to be expected considering the POV is that of Sam's, whose life revolves around the orphanage and he doesn't get to go outside and since it begins during the summer break, there are no school scenes to show how Sam interacts with other students. The reader is pulled into believing Sam and in turn believes what Sam believes to be true. So when the author introduces the conflict between Mr. Lyons and Natalie, the reader feels the same way as Sam does. It's strange though because the way Sam thinks and talks, to me, feels more like he's way older than thirteen or could that be a product of being able to read people's minds?

After the conflict has been introduced, the second half of the book goes by much faster especially with the addition of Nicholas Lyons and his poker friends and everything drastically speeds up during the boys' annual physical check-up at the hospital where Nurse Scarlett and Nurse Lewis works where Sam finally discovers how he came to be at the orphanage which further ignited his curiosity more than ever as the reasons doesn't seem to be traumatic for a thirteen year old to handle, and why he was never allowed to meet prospective parents and how come despite after receiving a large donation, there are no visible improvements being done on the orphanage?

All the answers to these seemingly innocent questions explodes throughout the final chapters where everything is revealed and loyalties changed.

The Lyons Orphanage does not have a complicated plot, easy to follow and the main orphan characters (Sam, Ben, Natasha and Gareth) are well developed characters while Mr. Howard Lyons and Natalie remain background authority figures until almost the very end when their characters become more involved with Sam.

The only issue I had with the galley I received was that the formatting was not very good at all. I believe the author would benefit greatly from the services of a book/ebook formatter or with using Vellum to format this book. The cover did not bother me as I usually go for the book description when deciding to read a book or not but it could also use an update.

Overall, despite the formatting issues I've mentioned above, it's an enjoyable read.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

[Book Review] The Legend of Decimus Croome: A Halloween Carol by Kevin Purdy

The Legend of Decimus Croome: A Halloween CarolThe Legend of Decimus Croome: A Halloween Carol by Kevin Purdy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: I received this galley in exchange for an honest review.

Part 1: From The Book Cover

Decimus Croome is a dastardly curmudgeon who hates all holidays but especially despises Halloween. He is content to live in his gloomy old house and avoid all human contact whenever possible. He even shuns his own daughter and grandson. But Croome's life changes one memorable Halloween when four ghastly spirits visit him to reveal the misery he has inflicted upon his friends, neighbors and family members.

Based on A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, The Legend of Decimus Croome is bound to become a Halloween classic for readers of all ages. Follow old man Croome as he is visited by the lovely but disturbing spirit of his dearly departed wife. She warns him of three spirits yet to follow. And oh what spirits they are. Each one is more frightening than the last as they deliver a chilling message for Croome and his fellow Halloween humbugs.

The Ghost of Halloween Past is a truly horrifying yet disturbingly hilarious spirit who delivers Croome to his distant and not-so-distant past. Along the journey, Croome is warmed with nostalgia then terrified by painful memories from Halloweens gone by.

The second spirit is a shape-shifting witch who breaks every stereotype about witches while nearly driving Croome insane with her wild antics and slapstick delivery. As the Ghost of Halloween Present, she takes Croome on a crazy magic carpet ride that reveals his negative influence on those closest to him. The witch also introduces Croome to the magic of Halloween on enchanted visits further afield.

The third phantasm delivers the final glimpse of Croome's diabolically repulsive life and the future that is in store for him if he doesn't change his wicked ways. Croome is forced to confront the impending consequences of his cruel and heartless lifestyle. He is spirited away to a bleak future including a terrifying visit to a desolate cemetery.

Throughout this delightful and spooky Halloween novel, you will be haunted by ghosts, inspired by a brave young leukemia patient and entertained by a precocious feline named Black Magic.

Join Tommy Bobbich, Decimus Croome and a whole cast of ghosts, witches and ghouls in this modern day holiday story that is sure to provide you with chills, laughs, and even a few touching moments as you read The Legend of Decimus Croome: A Halloween Carol. You will never look at Halloween the same again.

Part 2: Recommendation

I love Halloween (even though I tend to be lazy when it comes to dressing up, decorating and giving out candies because all I want to do on Halloween is to eat pizza and popcorn while watching a movie marathon of all of my favorite Halloween movies) and I love Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. At first I wasn't sure if I want to read and review this book (because I don't want A Christmas Carol to be ruined by another retelling) but upon further research, majority of this book's Amazon and GoodReads reviews were 5-stars. So I figured, why not give it a try and I am quite curious to know how the author Kevin Purdy translates the major plot points of A Christmas Carol into Halloween.

Well, I have to say kudos to Kevin Purdy for his work in The Legend of Decimus Croome: A Halloween Carol. It's very well written and true to the "Spirit of Halloween" ala Dickens style. It makes me wonder if the author is planning on coming out with another holiday carol book.

Decimus Croome definitely has Mr. Scrooge's cranky and downright nasty personality towards anyone and anything related to Halloween. Sam Bobbich and Tommy Bobbich represented Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim respectively. Patricia Croome, the late wife of Decimus Croome took the place of Jacob Marley while his son-in-law, Darren Tate, took the place of Fred, Mr. Scrooge's nephew, who always invites Mr. Croome to their annual Halloween party. Fezziwig was aptly represented by Stan Croome, Decimus' late father, who left the Croome Hardware store to Decimus.

The book opens with a scene establishing Decimus Croome as the Halloween humbug when he encountered Tommy and his older sister Kate by the Halloween decor aisle and what he later did to the two teen boys running around the Home Emporium, the competing hardware store, while buying an axe. Decimus Croome does have a wicked sense of humor and it showed when he exited the Home Emporium with a smirk on his face and mumbling, "Pest clean-up in aisle three … Who needs a stake through the heart when you've got lawn tractors?" or when he asked Darren, "A Halloween party? … and what exactly does one celebrate at a Halloween party? Is it a werewolf's birthday, a mummy's bar mitzvah or perhaps a witch's wedding anniversary?"

Another line from the book that I dearly loved was when Decimus asked Patricia's ghost, "…if you didn't choose it, and I didn't choose it, then why … did I have to spend my life without the one I loved most?…" and Patricia's answer was the best, "You cannot choose when or how you die, but you can choose how you live."

When Decimus observed how, "… it took so little to make a child like Tommy happy" the Spirit of Halloween Present said, "… It would appear that you might have underestimated the magic of Halloween." Decimus also realized "… that the joy of Halloween had not department this world. It had only departed his world."

When the Spirit of Halloween Present introduced Apathy and Greed, the scene with the two "little monsters" was quite spooky, "They belong to all of us and none of us. They are children of the world … they have grown particularly repulsive in the present day … When I am long gone, they will remain to haunt you and your brethren … they appear small but have a remarkable impact upon us all … They are not here with me, Decimus Croome. They are here with you."

And that scene with the Spirit of Halloween Future where they were visiting the Bobbich family and Decimus began pleading with Sam just about broke my heart.

And to round it all up, the light-hearted, happy and nice Decimus Croome making an appearance at the annual Tate Halloween party tied everything up like a festive Halloween wreath.

Overall, the plot, dialogue and characters lived up to the original classic and I have no doubt of this book by Kevin Purdy easily becoming a Halloween favorite just like A Christmas Carol. Truly inspiring.

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Friday, August 11, 2017

[Book Review] The Art of Hiding by Amanda Prowse

The Art of HidingThe Art of Hiding by Amanda Prowse
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: As a member of NetGalley, I received this galley in exchange for an honest review.

Part 1: From The Book Cover

Nina McCarrick has it all: a loving husband, two beautiful boys, a well-appointed home and more time than she knows what to do with. Life is perfect. Until her husband, Finn, is killed in a car accident and everything Nina thought she could rely on unravels.

Alone, bereft and faced with a mountain of debt, Nina quickly loses her life of luxury and she begins to question whether she ever really knew the man she married. Forced to move out of her family home, Nina returns to the rundown Southampton council estate—and the sister—she thought she had left far behind.

But Nina can’t let herself be overwhelmed—her boys need her. To save them, and herself, she will have to do what her husband discouraged for so long: pursue a career of her own. Torn between the life she thought she knew and the reality she now faces, Nina finally must learn what it means to take control of her life.

Bestselling author Amanda Prowse once again plumbs the depths of human experience in this stirring and empowering tale of one woman’s loss and love.

Part 2: Recommendation

Amanda Prowse does it again. This is the second book of hers that I've read, thanks to Net Galley and it's powerful… emotional… triumphant even. I want to read more about Nina, Tiggy, Connor and Declan, Gilly and the girls.

The plot is simple but emotionally charged beginning with Finn's death and discovering the financial difficulty they are all in. Nina's reaction to everything was believable and readers can't help but cheer her on as she tries to put the remaining pieces of their lives together in a less posh neighborhood aka the life she's known before Finn. I love that there's more to Connor than the usual teen angst and its lovely to see both boys grow into people with character and integrity and kindness. I feel that the boys from Kings Norton College could definitely learn and grow into.

In the scene where Kathy Topps was asking Nina if Declan would like to join her son Henry for tennis lessons and saying that, "…they learn so much better when there's an element of competition in it, …" I quite agree with Nina when she thought, "… it's the worst way to teach things. Who needs that added pressure?"

On p.15 the words "Oh no… That can't happen now. That won't happen again. There it was: the realization like a door slamming in her mind… bang!" resonated so much with me as my family is still grieving over the loss of my mother-in-law, and it does feel like that every time you thought of or do something and make a mental note to share that with your dearly departed loved ones, it does feel like a door slamming once you realize they're not physically there anymore.

On p.25 when Connor asked Nina "That's nowhere near my school. It's on the other side of town. He was heading out of the city. He wasn't on his way to watch me play rugby, was he?" it adds to Mr. Monroe's supposition when he said, "And I hate to think that I am the one who might be shedding light on Finn's untimely death…"

On p.28 when Declan said to Nina and Tiggy, "…but I hope that people [when they die and go to heaven] get to have a rest, either because they are very old and tired or because they were very busy, like Dad" made me very sad and hopeful at the same time that when our time comes and we die, that we too get to rest and that we don't have any spiritual chores to do.

My heart was filled with both sadness for Nina and rage at Finn when I came across the note Finn left behind, "My Nina, Things are hard for me — I feel like I am living in a world made of glass and with every day comes a new pressure that is pushing down down down and I don't know what will break first, me or my world…" If only Finn was strong enough, brave enough to share this burden with Nina and the kids, maybe together they all will be able to find a way to fix it. But Finn broke first.

And my favorite lines from the book first appeared on p.85 when Nina remembered the words from her own mother upon receiving a glass marble, "This is a little world, Nina. And if ever the real world feels too big or too scary, remember that it is nothing more than a little ball traveling through space and it fits right into the palm of your hand and the more courage you have, the braver you are when facing it, the easier it is to conquer!" which was repeated at the end.

As always, Amanda Prowse, is a gifted storyteller and writer. Emotions leap out at you and grabs hold of you until the very end. A quick read and all the characters feel real. I love seeing Nina grow from a timid mousy character into a brave, confident woman with friends she actually enjoys. I enjoyed seeing Connor and Declan also grow from feeling entitled to learning and showing compassion and kindness to others. I love how Nina's relationship with her sister, Tiggy, grow warm and affectionate as sisters ought to be. It's not easy but you sure have to try, just like with any relationship.

If you like a well-written, emotionally charged book with a good ending and memorable characters, set in Bath and Southampton and marketed as Women's Fiction, you will not regret picking this one up.

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Friday, August 4, 2017

[Book Review] The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

The Little Paris BookshopThe Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Part 1: From The Book Cover

"There are books that are suitable for a million people, others for only a hundred. There are even remedies — I mean books — that were written for one person only… A book is both medic and medicine at once. It makes a diagnosis as well as offering therapy. Putting the right novels to the appropriate ailments: that's how I sell books."

Monsieur Perdu calls himself a literary apothecary. From his floating bookstore in a barge on the Seine, he prescribes novels for the hardships of life. Using his intuitive feel for the exact book a reader needs, Perdu mends broken hearts and souls. The only person he can't seem to heal through literature is himself; he's still haunted by heartbreak after his great love disappeared. She left him with only a letter, which he has never opened.

After Perdu is finally tempted to read the letter, he hauls anchor and departs on a mission to the south of France, hoping to make peace with his loss and discover the end of the story. Joined by a bestselling but blocked author and a lovelorn Italian chef, Perdu travels along the country's rivers, dispensing his wisdom and his books, showing that the literary world can take the human soul on a journey to heal itself.

Internationally bestselling and filled with warmth and adventure, The Little Paris Bookshop is a love letter to books, meant for anyone who believes in the power of stories to shape people's lives.

Part 2: Recommendation

I feel like I can't properly review books when I listen to audiobooks. Why? Because I can't take down notes and memorable quotes or lines from the audiobook version because my memory is not that great and I can't write or type fast enough and usually, I'm crocheting or working at my day job when I listen to audiobooks. But I will try my best here.

I finished this book last June 26, 2017 and a month later, I'm still not sure how I feel about this book enough to write a coherent review. By this time, I have listened to a lot of audiobooks and I do enjoy them especially when I'm driving for more than 30 minutes. This book was narrated by Steve West, Emma Bering and Cassandra Campbell and they were excellent. The book was well-written, the plot is a bit on the slow, relaxed and meandering pace and the two main male characters: Jean Perdu and Max Jordan, a young novelist are very realistic to me. Jean Perdu is a little sad character but you can see him change and finally move on while Max Jordan is a very adorable young man, always helpful despite his own issues. As for Perdu's greatest love, Manon, the chapters that are from her point of view, presented as journal entries never failed to startle me mainly because I just want to get back to Perdu's and Max's adventures and who they get to meet next. I honestly did not want to hear about Manon and as each of her journal entries came to light, the more I found her to be selfish, untrustworthy and definitely not worthy of Jean Perdu's undying love and devotion, even after Jean finally read her last letter to him. In my eyes, she was deemed unworthy of the good-hearted, literary apothecary. And here comes Catherine, Perdu's second chance at love and romance and she was portrayed as another broken-hearted woman, crying over how her ex-husband left her and that was the last thing that was mentioned about her before the great adventure and sure, Jean was constantly sending her a postcard from wherever port they ended up anchoring in but it's always been one-sided. We never get to picture Catherine growing and overcoming her heartache and divorce and we never knew what she was thinking and feeling every time she received a postcard from Jean. Even though she was brave in the end to go and be with Jean, in my head, she will always be that vision of a broken woman whose husband left her for another woman. I wish there was more to Catherine in this book other than that sad, crying image seared in my brain.

If you want a sweet, slow, meandering book and to savor it, and take your time with, this would be it.

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Thursday, July 27, 2017

[Book Review] Growth And Change Are Highly Overrated by Tom Starita

Growth and Change Are Highly OverratedGrowth and Change Are Highly Overrated by Tom Starita
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Part 1: From The Book Cover

Growth and Change Are Highly Overrated is a classic coming-of-age story that takes a unique and comic look at what we all fear—having to grow up and abandon our dreams.

For a charismatic man like Lucas James, life is a breeze because everyone else provides the wind. This man-child front man for a mediocre cover band has been mooching off of his fiancee Jackie for years until she finally decides she's had enough. Faced with the reality of having no income to support his carefree lifestyle, Lucas James abandons his principles and gets a job working in the stockroom at, "That Store." How does he cope with this new found sense of responsibility?

He casually steals…

In a life spent bucking authority how will Lucas James deal with his manager, 'Victor the Dictator'? How long can he survive Ralph, a starry-eyed coworker who desires nothing more than to be best friends? Will Lori, a twenty-something cashier, be like everyone else and fall for his charms? Will he ever find a place to live? And is "growing up" just another way of saying "selling out?"

Part 2: Recommendation

The narrative is written in a 1st person POV from Lucas James' perspective who is very self-centered, narcissistic, a liar and a jerk. I honestly don't like him but I agreed to read and review this book when the author Tom Starita submitted a book review request because the description did say, it's a coming-of-age story and other reviews said it's hilarious.

Sad to say, for me at least, the only hilarious scene throughout this entire book was the scene where a 75-lb rolling island unit was being hauled up to the 3rd floor by Lucas James on p.11. That was it. The only scene I found hilarious and real life laughed out loud.

The line, "First you write the hit song, then you die. Never reversed" on p. 13 reminded me of Chester Bennington, Linkin Park's lead singer committing suicide on 7/20/2017.

The line, "There is nothing more maddening than losing potentially great lines to the ethers of your mind" on p. 15 does ring a bell and has some truth to it.

Lucas James is big on procrastination when he said, "Any task, any goal, any dream you wish to accomplish but failed to do so today, has the opportunity for redemption the next time the sun rises. My faith in tomorrow was ultimately not shared by Jackie" on p. 16 made me cringe because what if there is no tomorrow for you? Then you would've wasted today doing nothing when you could've easily done something towards accomplishing your task/goal/dream, etc. I agree with Jackie on this one.

Just no to the scene where Lucas takes his 5-year-old nephew to a strip club for lunch and no to the scene where he pretended to have gotten hit by a teacher. No matter how "immature" or "irresponsible" or "rebellious" a person is, these two scenes should never have happened.

And the line, “Never propose at a dive bar” on p. 153 really?! It's more like never use a ring you stole to propose to your girlfriend. Ever.

The line where he admits to being a dick, “If you are a dick you have jerk tendencies, plain and simple. You are selfish and don't take the feelings of others into consideration when you do whatever it is you want to do. At the same time, people still like you. You're most likely funny and/or attractive, which dulls a person’s animosity towards you. People enjoy being around you because they think you're interesting or quirky. They also try to live vicariously through you, because you are the person who says what they are thinking. When a dick walks into the room you can feel the energy shift. People feel better, smiles appear on faces, and all is right with the world. When the dick leaves the room, the collective mood deflates, and depression is normally the end result” on p. 176 is the exact opposite for me. I don't get fooled by the charm. I feel super relieved when said dick leaves the room.

I hate this line on p.179 “Punch in, do as little work as possible, punch out.” I've worked with people with this kind of work ethic and it's stressful. So I'm really not liking Lucas James at all, nor do I find his antics funny. I also did not appreciate the lack of any legal consequences to Lucas James' stealing. An innocent person gets the hit for it, which is not fair and definitely sends out the wrong message. I believe that books should teach the readers important life lessons and this book failed miserably on this point.

Finally, something I can agree with: “So live the life you want to live. Take chances and accept the likelihood of failure. Because whether you succeed or fail… your name and all you did or did not do will disappear into the sands of time.”

Overall, the paper quality is good and the formatting and writing style is very good. I know that this book was independently published and each page costs something to print but how I wished that this book did not start abruptly on Chapter 1. What I mean was, the lack of a copyright page and maybe a list of other books the author wrote in the front matter section and an author bio in the back matter section after the acknowledgments. It would be nice to have those two things as I do read those sections as well.

As for the plot and pacing of the story… it reads like a memoir and relatively paced. There's nothing exciting (for me at least) to entice the reader to keep reading. I had to put the book down several times and debate whether to file it under my DNF (Did-Not-Finish) shelf or continue reading. Every time I put the book down because I was getting annoyed at Lucas James, I had to take deep breaths and remind myself that the sooner I finish reading this book the sooner I can get back to my other, more favorable books in my Currently-Reading shelf. I also had to remind myself that this is a coming-of-age story so that means, Lucas James learns something, changes or grows up from his experience by the end of the book. I have to say that I was mad when I reached the end because Lucas James did not learn anything at all. He did not grow as a person/character. He did not become a better person. He was the same old piece of shit that he started with. Not cool to claim this book as a coming-of-age story without the character developing into a better person.

A better coming-of-age story would be Jackie's story. At least she learned something and she got out of a financially and emotionally abusive relationship and now, she's with a better person who appreciates her and will always put her first. Now, who do I recommend this book for? If you are a very responsible person who gets emotional, skip this book because Lucas James will incite every negative emotion you have. If you like reading books that makes you feel negative emotions, or has unlikeable characters or you get a kick by reading about lazy, self-centered, narcissistic characters, then by all means, pick up a copy.

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Monday, June 5, 2017

[Book Review] Wonder by R.J. Palacio

WonderWonder by R.J. Palacio
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Part 1: From The Book Cover

I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse.

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school — until now. He's about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you've ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie's just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he's just like them, despite appearances?

R.J. Palacio has written a spare, warm, uplifting story that will have readers laughing one minute and wiping away tears the next. With wonderfully realistic family interactions (flawed, but loving), lively school scenes, and short chapters, Wonder is accessible to readers of all levels.

Part 2: Recommendation

I normally don't read anything that is about bullying or deformities. I don't need to read such books to experience how hard it is to be bullied or have a deformity because I myself have been subjected to bullying from kindergarten to 6th grade because I have a scar on my upper lip due to surgeries to fix my cleft lip and palate. I don't wish to resurrect painful memories from those 7 miserable school years. Then I saw a trailer for the movie Wonder that is coming out in November 2017 and since it was on my TBR list and available to borrow from the library, I thought I'd give it a try.

"When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind." How I wish all of our teachers or at least a teacher during those 7 early school years taught this instead of turning a blind eye or laughing behind my back. The girls were definitely nicer than the boys as clearly depicted in this book as well.

So, if "we carry with us, as human beings, not just the capacity to be kind, but the very choice of kindness…", how come a lot of kids don't always choose to be kind or sympathetic? Is it because of what they see in their own families or is it because of what they see their friends doing or both? I love how the author shows both sides where kids with kind, sympathetic families tend to choose to be kind even if they were mean at first while the kids with families who are judgmental, unkind and unsympathetic tended to remain a mean-spirited, spoiled brat throughout the book.

And some days when I wish I had a different face, a perfect, beautiful face like my sister's, I will always remember this line and be reminded of how my mom must've felt: "I missed seeing your face, Auggie. I know you don't always love it, but you have to understand… I love it. I love this face of yours, Auggie, completely and passionately. And it kind of broke my heart that you were always covering it up."

Wonder by R.J. Palacio is beautifully written in different points of view other than Auggie's. The reader gets to experience the the story from the following character's points of view: Auggie's older sister Via, Auggie's school friends Summer and Jack, Via's boyfriend Justin, and Via's best friend Miranda. Throughout these different points of views, there might be some overlap but the story still progresses very nicely. I was just a bit thrown off because Justin's section of the book doesn't properly use proper writing styles. I'm not sure if that was deliberate like reading off of Justin's journal or something. I didn't like that part, to be honest.

All the characters especially Auggie and Via are very well developed and as the story progresses, you not only see how Auggie grows, but you see it in his family and his classmates too. The plot is not complicated at all. It did not feel overly dramatic. In fact, it reads like a memoir, being written in first person and sounding matter-of-fact. It is what it is, no special effects, no embellishments. Simple.

In the end, I hope to be able to laugh about myself more like how Auggie can laugh about himself (he's quite funny but I, on the other hand, have a very serious and quiet nature. It takes a special personality and patience to bring out my funny side) and live these words from Mr. Tushman: "Courage. Kindness. Friendship. Character. These are the qualities that define us as human beings, and propel us, on occasion, to greatness."

To conclude this review, I highly recommend Wonder by R.J. Palacio before watching the movie because for sure, there will be a lot of scenes that won't make the cut to the final movie version. This is one of those books that you will love to hug several times and most especially when it ends. It moves your spirit to kindness and I was just thinking how serendipitous it is to have come across this book in my personal year of kindness.

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Friday, May 26, 2017

[Book Review] An Unfortunate Fairy Tale Series by Chanda Hahn


An Unfortunate Fairy Tale Series by Chanda Hahn

My Average Rating: 4.4 of 5 stars
Ebook Edition
Genre: YA Fantasy, Fairy Tales

Part 1: From The Book Covers

Mina Grime is unlucky, unpopular and uncoordinated; until she saves her crush's life on a field trip, changing her High School status from loser to hero overnight. But with her new found fame brings misfortune in the form of an old family curse come to light. For Mina is descended from the Brothers Grimm and has inherited all of their unfinished fairy tale business. Which includes trying to outwit a powerful Story from making her it's next fairy tale victim.

To break the fairy tale curse on her family and make these deadly occurrences stop, Mina must finish the tales until the very Grimm end.

Mirror, Mirror, on the wall,
Who is the Fairest of them all?

In the sequel to unEnchanted, Mina Grime discovers that all is not fair when it comes to the Fae and their tales, especially when they don't all play by the rules. Barely surviving the Story's first fairy tale quest, Mina still has hundreds to go before she can end the curse on her family. But a new player arises to challenge Mina while new rules revamp the game she has just barely begun to understand.

All the while, people are mysteriously disappearing, including Jared, whom Mina must finally determine to be friend or foe. And with the loss of her greatest weapon, Mina must try to outwit a deadly hunter. Can Mina survive the most difficult quest yet while protecting those she loves from falling victim to one of the lethal tales of all? Or will she become a pawn when she strikes a bargain with the Queen of Fae?

All that glitters is not gold.

When something precious is stolen from sixteen-year-old Mina Grime, she will do anything in her power to get it back, even if it means traveling to the dangerous Fae plane and battling one of the strongest fairy tale villains yet.

However, nothing can prepare Mina for the dangerous obstacles she will face in the Fae world, or the choices she must make when love and life are on the line.

Going to the Fae plane against Jared's orders has cost Mina dearly. Her decision continues to haunt her as a new danger surfaces. The Grimms are fading.

To save her family's future, Mina Grime will have to travel to the past with the help of her Fae Godmother and a magic pair of shoes.

She must go to where the Story first began, to the beginning of the dark prince's reign. But can she finish her quest before her time runs out or will she be trapped in the past forever?

With the Godmother Guild destroyed by Teague's army, Mina finds herself without guidance of her Fae Godmother. Alone and confused, she must lean on her friends for support. The dark prince threatens their very existence with a show of power on the human plane that has everyone running for their lives.

To save them, Mina must make a deal with the prince to become his prisoner or lose her friends forever. But is there any hope for Jared and the love they briefly shared, or must beauty destroy the beast she created?

Part 2: Recommendation

This YA series was an amazing experience for me overall. I enjoyed how each book was such a page-turner that by the end of UnEnchanted, which I got for free, I was compelled to buy Fairest, the second book and by the end of the it, I ended up buying the rest of the books in the series except for Jared's Quest, a short story about Jared's whereabouts when he's not helping Mina fight off fairy tale villains or annoying her in school since I'm not too keen on reading about what he does apart from Mina. 

This series by Chanda Hahn for me has been a breath of fresh air in the sense that my YA reading habits went down ever since reading Always You by Kirsty Moseley (you can read my review of this book here) in May of 2013 and the decline can easily be attributed to utterly stupid characters and the lack of interesting plot lines. Between June 2013 and today, I've been really picky about reading YA books as I love the genre and I hate seeing it destroyed by insipid, stupid characters. 

Hence, I call this series a breath of fresh air because Mina Grime/Grimm is a very likable and relatable character. Not overly dramatic, protective of her family and friends, slightly wary of new people, loyal, brave when she needs to be, and she easily earns the reader's trust and sympathy right away. The main supporting characters that form Mina's immediate support group consist of her younger brother Charlie, her best friend Nan Taylor, and her long-time crush Brody Carmichael for the humans and Jared, Nix and Ever for the Fae. These support characters are just as likable. You can't help but admire Nan and Brody for their unconditional loyalty and friendship and though newer to the group, you can't help but find Nix quite adorable and brave. And Ever, OMG, Ever is just freaking amazing. As for Jared, I still have mixed feelings about him. 

Now, the plot. It's not your usual fairy tale retellings and it's not like the Grimm TV show either. I have not yet come across a fairy tale retelling that is more focused on the point of view of the Brothers Grimm in a whole new way. The plot line was not about collecting the stories but more like reliving the stories that the Brothers Grimm collected in a contemporary way in quest format where Mina could either be the hero or the villain and as the books progressed, you can clearly see Mina develop as a character as she discovers her Grimm powers, her heritage, and what she must do to save both the Fae and human worlds. 

To conclude this review, Chanda Hahn cleverly weaves in famous and not so famous Grimm fairy tales throughout the books in the series and it is up to Mina and the readers to figure out what the fairy tales are. If you are a fan of fairy tales and their retellings, this series should be on your list.

Monday, May 8, 2017

[Product Review] Kobo Aura Edition 2

Kobo Aura Edition 2 eReader

My Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Part 1: Description and Technical Specs

Discover a simple and natural eReader experience with Kobo Aura. Get lost in your story on the 6" Carta E Ink touchscreen that's lightweight and comfortable to hold for hours reading. With a print-on-paper look, you can read in direct sunlight without glare; and with the built-in, adjustable ComfortLight, you can read late into the night with minimal eyestrain. The Kobo eBookstore gives you access to over 5 million eBooks and your Kobo Aura lets you store up to 3,000 eBooks so you'll never be without a great read. Discovery is easy with personalized recommendations based on your reading habits, plus you can read ratings and reviews from Booklovers like you.

Screen: 6" Carta E Ink touchscreen, 1024 x 768 resolution 212 ppi
Weight: 180g
Size: 159 x 113 x 8.5mm
Storage: 4GB  on-board memory, holds up to 3,000 ebooks
Front-Light: Built-in, fully adjustable ComfortLight with micro-thin coating for durability and even light distribution
Customizability: TypeGenius: 11 different fonts and over 40 sizes to choose from; Exclusive font weight and sharpness setting
Supported Formats: 14 file formats supported natively (EPUB, EPUB3, PDF, MOBI, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, TIFF, TXT, HTML, RTF, CBZ, & CBR); Read ebooks from borrowed from Public Library
Connectivity: WiFi 802.11 b/g/n, Micro USB
Battery Life: Up to 2 months depending on usage
Languages: English, French, German, Spanish, Dutch, Italian, Brazilian, Portuguese, Japanese, Turkish
Other: No advertising, no interruptions

Part 2: Recommendation

It was actually anti-climactic when I finally received my Kobo Aura Edition 2 in the mail because it got delayed in Hodgkins, IL and the UPS facility in Colorado Springs, CO sorted my package incorrectly and so it went all the way to Englewood, CO instead so that added 1 more business day for a total of 2 business days that it was delayed in getting to me. So in short, it took a total of 7 business days to arrive, though still reasonable and within the timeframe Kobo specified in the confirmation email, however, my excitement in receiving the Kobo Aura Edition 2 has significantly waned. 

When I opened the packaging, the actual box was no longer sealed (and I'm assuming this was due to customs?), and there's a very noticeable damage to the side of the box. Inside the box was the device itself with a clear plastic film on the screen, some documentation and a micro USB cable to charge and transfer data to and from the device.

When I powered on the Edition 2, it has a battery life of 97%. I wanted to try setting it up over WiFi without having to connect it to my Mac but since my home network is setup differently for security purposes, I connected the Edition 2 to my Mac, launched the Kobo Desktop App and from there, followed on-screen prompts to setting up my Edition 2. Setting it up was really easy and didn't take long. I did have to leave it to charge for 4 hours as prescribed. 

Once it was fully charged, I side-loaded the eBooks that were on my Sony Reader PRS-T1 onto my Kobo Aura Edition 2. Then played around with the user interface (UI). At first, it felt strange not having that physical home button and navigating through my device's library did take some getting used to. It frustrated me a bit because I would swipe at the screen to move on to the next page of my list of books but instead of moving to the next page, it would open up the book. And it did that several times. If I swipe towards the top where the header/sorting options are at, it would sometimes select the sorting option. Other than that, the Kobo Aura Edition 2 was okay. I think I still prefer the UI on my Sony Reader though and having the option to use the physical page turn buttons are very helpful. I didn't realize how helpful they were until I started using the Edition 2.

Reading under direct sunlight during my lunch break walks with my dog, Mowgli, is better because of the higher screen resolution and with the front light compared to the Sony Reader because whenever I step under the shade of a tree or my Sony Reader falls under the shade of my own shadow, there's a bit of a strain to see the words on the screen. Very minimal and almost negligible but with the Edition 2, because of the front light, it gives you enough light to be able to read in any lighting condition and because it's E Ink, you can obviously read clearly under direct sunlight. So that was a real pleasure in having upgraded to the Edition 2. Reading on the couch in the front room of the house in front of a large window when the afternoon sun is setting and the light is changing, it handled the changing light conditions very well. I didn't have to manually turn on the ComfortLight (because I never bothered to turn down or turn it off) and I really loved that experience. Definitely front lit E Ink readers is the way to go. 

When it comes to the browser and downloading ebooks from public libraries, the browser is pretty fast for a beta feature and you can save favorite sites like your favorite Indie Book Store's Kobo link, Goodreads, your public library's overdrive link and Dropbox. Other reviewers on YouTube have suggested to use Dropbox to side load ebooks if you don't want to use the USB cable. I have not tried that yet but I did try downloading ebooks from the public library (which uses Overdrive) but somehow, that did not work. I was able to download the same ebook file to my Mac and open it on Adobe Digital Editions (ADE) and I was able to download and open the file using the Overdrive app on my iPhone. The Edition 2's browser showed that it did download the book but when I looked in my device's library listing, the borrowed library ebook was nowhere to be found. I tried transferring the file via USB cable and it took several tries to get the Edition 2 to list the book but when I tapped on it to open it, it kept showing me an error message about the ID issue not matching which is not true because everything uses the same Adobe ID that is authorized on the Edition 2. So I'm not sure what's going on there. It worked all the time on my Sony Reader's browser and it would show up on the Recently Added books on the home screen of my Sony Reader but somehow, it did not work on my Edition 2. I'll probably try that again later. Or try the Dropbox workaround. Or wait until ADE sends out an update.

Despite the initial frustrations surrounding Overdrive and ADE (to the point where I wanted to send the device back for a refund), I think I will keep it because it is faster, it has a higher memory, higher screen resolution and way better front light than my Sony Reader with the reading light cover combined. Besides, I can't download ebooks from the public library anymore on my Sony Reader because of the ADE ID issue and because the browser keeps disconnecting from the WiFi every time the Sony Reader attempts to download the ePub file. And with the ADE ID issue going on, there's no borrowing public library ebooks on both devices except thru the Overdrive app on my iPhone. I would have rated it 5 stars if I could download Overdrive public library ebooks directly via the browser and until now, my Kobo Aura Edition 2 still has yet to be updated to the new UI that Kobo released last February 2017.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017 Update:

My Kobo Aura Edition 2 UI has not updated to the new one yet but last week, a public library book that I recommended became available for me to borrow and guess what? Not only did I manage to download the file to my Mac but I also managed to successfully transfer the ePub file to my Edition 2 and read it. No ADE ID error messages this time around. Woo hoo!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017 Update:

My Kobo Aura Edition 2 UI has finally updated to the new UI and it looks like, in order to read public library ebooks on the device, you have to download the file using your PC/Mac, open the .ACSM file using ADE then transfer the converted EPUB file to your Kobo Aura Edition 2. It should open without any ADE ID error messages. Apparently, you can't download the file to any other device even though you're using the Overdrive App on another mobile device. But isn't that the whole point of signing up for an Overdrive account so you can access the same digitally borrowed library book on multiple devices?

Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019 Update:

Now that Kobo acquired Overdrive and they've updated the UI to integrate Overdrive across all Kobo devices, borrowing public library ebooks and putting holds on books is a lot better now. Because browsing ebooks via the Overdrive app on my iPhone is way faster than going through the device's Kobo store link, I use my iPhone Overdrive app (not the Libby app as I've heard that the Libby app is not capable of syncing across multiple devices) to browse, place holds and download the ePub ebooks and then go over to my Edition 2 and tap the sync icon and the borrowed book would show up. So far, no ADE ID error messages. Well done, Kobo!

Monday, April 17, 2017

[Book Review] The Idea Of You by Amanda Prowse

The Idea of YouThe Idea of You by Amanda Prowse
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: As a member of NetGalley, I received this galley in exchange for an honest review.

Part 1: From The Book Cover

With her fortieth birthday approaching, Lucy Carpenter thinks she finally has it all: a wonderful new husband, Jonah, a successful career and the chance of a precious baby of her own. Life couldn't be more perfect.

But becoming parents proves much harder to achieve than Lucy and Jonah imagined, and when Jonah's teenage daughter Camille comes to stay with them, she becomes a constant reminder of what Lucy doesn't have. Jonah's love and support are unquestioning, but Lucy's struggles with work and her own failing dreams begin to take their toll. With Camille's presence straining the bonds of Lucy's marriage even further, Lucy suddenly feels herself close to losing everything…

This heart-wrenchingly poignant family drama from bestselling author Amanda Prowse asks the question: in today's hectic world, what does it mean to be a mother?

Part 2: Recommendation

The Idea Of You by Amanda Prowse is a well-written, heart-wrenching, piece of fiction that is somewhat close to hitting home on a personal level for me in the sense that being a married woman, I'm expected to pop out children. In the seven years that I've been married to my amazing husband, it hasn't happened and the pressure is still there to the point where I've started avoiding physically attending baby showers (that and because I'm a shy, introvert). I'm on the fence about having children of my own because I honestly feel that I'm selfish and self-centered (to a degree) where I'll be classified as a horrible mother if I ever have children (I already have such a high standard of expectation for my future child's behavior, character, creativity and intellect that it would be impossible and super stressful for said future child to meet). I'm awkward around humans especially kids and I prefer the company of dogs, books and older people. I'd rather not have kids and just be the greatest aunt in the world to my nephews but my husband still hopes for at least one child (or triplets).

With that said, every month that goes by, I can relate to what Lucy goes through: the disappointment, heart-break, pain and depression that follows every one of her miscarriage. Because of this book, I now know what it feels like to have that home test kit show that you're pregnant only to find out that the baby you've been hoping for does not have a heartbeat and you end up with another miscarriage. I haven't been there and I hope to never know such pain especially the pain that would cause my husband. I would not wish such pain on anyone.

Lucy's tumultuous journey to motherhood and accepting her reality is not exactly a happy one but inspiring nonetheless in the sense that women who can't have children can still have that sense of fulfillment in other ways: by loving the children around you as if they were your own (or you can always adopt a baby). It is definitely a hard lesson to learn and even harder to apply in real life especially when I see how much my husband enjoys being around our little nephew.

In conclusion, The Idea Of You by Amanda Prowse did have a big twist, which I did enjoy but this book is not for everyone especially for those who like highly satisfyingly good endings. This has a sad but good ending. All the supporting characters are well developed, the plot is a bit slow and sometimes I feel like the tension in the story was added on just for the sake of having a bit of drama. The way the end of the chapters was laid out with a sort of journal entry-ish style was a bit confusing but it does clear up in the end, so that part was okay. Overall, it was a good book and definitely geared towards women (and their loving partners) who are struggling with the pain of miscarriage(s) or their inability to have children of their own.

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Sunday, March 26, 2017

[Book Review] Gone: A Girl, A Violin, A Life Unstrung by Min Kym

Gone: A Girl, a Violin, a Life UnstrungGone: A Girl, a Violin, a Life Unstrung by Min Kym
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: As a member of Penguin's First To Read Program & NetGalley, I received this galley in exchange for an honest review.

Part 1: From The Book Cover

The spellbinding memoir of a violin virtuoso who loses the instrument that had defined her both on stage and off — and who discovers, beyond the violin, the music of her own voice. Her first violin was tiny, harsh, factory-made; her first piece was “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” But from the very beginning, Min Kym knew that music was the element in which she could swim and dive and soar. At seven years old, she was a prodigy, the youngest ever student at the famed Purcell School. At eleven, she won her first international prize; at eighteen, the great violinist Ruggiero Ricci called her “the most talented violinist I’ve ever taught.” And at twenty-one, she found “the one,” the violin she would play as a soloist: a rare 1696 Stradivarius. Her career took off. She recorded the Brahms concerto and a world tour was planned. Then, in a London cafe, her violin was stolen. She felt as though she had lost her soulmate, and with it her sense of who she was. Overnight, she became unable to play or function, stunned into silence. In this lucid and transfixing memoir, Kym reckons with the space left by her violin’s absence. She sees with new eyes her past as a child prodigy, with its isolation and crushing expectations; her combustible relationships with teachers and with a domineering boyfriend; and her navigation of two very different worlds, her traditional Korean family and her music. And in the stark yet clarifying light of her loss, she rediscovers her voice and herself.

Part 2: Recommendation

I don't usually read biographies and memoirs but when I saw this book and read the book description, I felt compelled to read it. Why? I don't even know who Min Kym is and I haven't heard of her, but I had to read her memoir. I'm not sure exactly what prompted me to request the galley but I did. It could probably have something to do with the fact that I tried and had to give up playing the violin because of the extremely soft, almost missing flexor tendon on my pinky finger, that I can't properly hold down the strings to produce the right sound. So yes, this book intrigued me.

The book opens with a scene where Ms. Kym is checking in her bags at the airline ticketing counter and was told she had to check in her violin and something terrible happens then the next chapter opens at the very beginning, the one event that would catapult her into the world of music and competitions and the different teachers and mentors that she's had over the years and what each of her violins meant to her.

I play the piano and I did attempt to learn the violin but I am by no means a professional musician but I do understand this phrase when I came across it in the book when Ms. Kym said, “…I knew right away that holding a violin, playing a violin, was not simply for me, but it was me.” There are some instruments that is very easy and comes naturally to a person and in my case, despite the initial resistance, it was the piano. Back when I was first learning the piano, I preferred the voice and romance of the violin but all we had was an ancient, Weinstein & Sons upright piano with a cracked sound board. But I figured, learning how to read music on a piano will translate into all other instruments anyway so I learned and played the piano. Years later, when I was working, I bought myself a beginner violin, a Hoffner, because I still wanted to learn how to play another, more portable instrument. It was either a violin or a flute but the violin won. It was slightly awkward for me to hold, and the sound was just as Ms. Kym described her first violin as "harsh" sounding and the harshness of it was probably largely due to my inexperience as a violinist. I think I tried and practiced on that violin for a year to two and gave up. The instrument was just not for me. Five years later, I sold it to the mother of another beginner violinist. Hopefully, that child will fare better than I. So for everyone who can play a violin, I'm highly in awe of you guys.

Moving halfway across the world and having to leave my piano or my Yamaha Electone Organ behind, I started to miss playing the piano at around the 7-year mark so when I finally purchased a Yamaha Portable Grand DGX-660 Digital Piano and played music again for the first time in 7 years, I completely understood how Ms. Kym felt when she said, “…I felt like a creature released, alive in herself for the first time" because that was exactly how I felt when I played the piano on my DGX-660. Sure, there is nothing like the sound of a good acoustic instrument but I was looking for a more portable, and practical instrument since I can't fit a baby grand piano anywhere in my house and I honestly don't want the cost of maintaining one and I want to have the rhythms and different voices that my Yamaha Electone Organ has just in the form of an 88-key piano.

Reading this book, I'm not sure if Ms. Kym was romanticizing her "relationship" with each of her violins but her attachment to each of her instruments, especially to the 1696 Stradivarius was really something that made me think, perhaps that feeling of attachment only applies to violinists? Why? Because she described her rare, 1696 Stradivarius violin as "…It felt as if three hundred years ago, Stradivarius had held his hands over a length of wood and fashioned this violin just for me, that all her [the violin's] life, my Strad had been waiting for me as I had been waiting for her… It was love at first sight, love and everything else: honor, obedience, trust, everything… This was marriage till death do us part, made in heaven right here on earth… I'd met my soul mate." See what I mean about romanticizing violins? Ms. Kym did mention that pianists aren't like that at all about their pianos, which I feel to be true because pianos are not as portable (unless you get a digital one that you lug around everywhere) and pianists usually just play on whatever piano is available at the venue unless you're some hotshot piano player who has the means and money to transport their grand pianos everywhere. Although, I have to say that pianist are very loyal to their brands. There's always a debate going on as to which piano brand sounds better: Steinway & Sons, Yamaha, Kawai, or Baldwin to name a few and we pianists, would defend our brands to the death especially when it comes to our personal instruments. I mean, you can't really demand a venue to provide you with the brand and model you prefer to play on unless you ship your own. So yes, I do agree with Ms. Kym that pianists, don't have this level of attachment to their instruments like violinists do.

This book climaxes to a point in time where her Strad was stolen and the depression that came after it, which was understandable and very dark. The confusion that surrounded the whole thing and the painful reality of finding and buying another violin. She finally ends up with an Amati violin and the book closes with this heart-wrenching realization, "…My Strad is Gone but I can still hear the call of it. My Strad is Gone but I can play again. I have memories of the Strad and the Strad will have memories of me. When it is played again, out in the open, on stage, in front of an audience, it will remember me. It will open its heart and remember me" to which these words resonated so much with me when I went back home last December 2016 and saw how dirty it's keys were, how neglected and forlorn my Weinstein & Sons upright acoustic Piano was and my Yamaha Electone Organ was. Both are in sad need of repair (all the black keys of the foot pedals of the Yamaha Electone Organ are not producing sound anymore) and both need cleaning and the Weinstein badly needs to be tuned and I was a bit outraged and terribly saddened that no one cared for them both. They're both gone from me but both instruments and I will have memories of each other, of the love and care we shared for 12 good years.

In conclusion, this book has changed how I look and feel about the instruments that I have throughout the years (though not as many as Ms. Kym has gone through with her violins) and I learned a lot on how a violin is made and how structured a life of a child prodigy was. I've always thought about what if I started early with the piano and went on to Conservatory music instead of getting a Bachelor's Degree in Accounting and what if I had a job as a musician instead of an accounting job? This book has given me insights to what a musician's life is like so at least the wondering on my part has lessened and to be honest, I wouldn't trade a thing but I would've liked to have at least tried it first (like going to Conservatory Music in College instead of Accounting) to see how far I could go with my music. Gone by Min Kym is a well-written, emotionally charged, thought-provoking and sometimes dark memoir but in the end, you can clearly see the subtle changes and the triumphant come back of a wiser, stronger Min Kym.

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